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When the sound of gunshots fired led police to suspects dashing into a house on the 1800 block of Lake Street, the police were not surprised. They already knew that particular address rather well. When a 31-year-old woman was found dead in the yard of a home on the 1700 block of Dodge Avenue, that address, too, was well known to the police.
City officials unveiled a list of properties characterized as “chronic problems for the community” at a press conference on Nov. 16 as part of an initiative designed to hold landlords accountable to enforce ordinances and property standards that are already in the books.
“No one should have to live next to places like that,” said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl at the press conference. Citing repeated disruptive and dangerous behavior in and around the problem properties, she called the initiative “one part and only one part of the answer to violence in our community.”
Police Chief Richard Eddington said the City would “join together all the resources of the community to address these [problem] properties,” including police, the fire and life safety department, legal staff and the health department’s property standards division. He promised to return with an update and report in 30 days.
Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said he wanted to try and address problem properties “in one fell swoop…. A judge in Skokie will have a wider panoply of information” when reviewing individual properties, he said, calling the initiative an “omnibus” and “holistic” approach.
Mr. Farrar also said the City’s law department was in the process of revising the City’s nuisance property ordinance and had been “actively studying [amendments] over the balance of the last year.”
The list of chronic problem properties contains 11 addresses, 10 of them in the Fifth Ward and seven within a block of Emerson Street between Hartrey and Ashland avenues. Speaking with the RoundTable after the press conference, Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes said, “This is not new. I have been asking forever about rental property licensing.”
Ald. Holmes said she hoped the end result would be the City’s rental properties “will have cooperative, responsible landlords” and offer “clean, healthy, safe environments” for tenants and neighbors.
The City has plenty of problem properties in all wards, said Ald. Holmes. “Finally the City has heard” complaints from residents and will be taking a “holistic” approach using “all possible” tools available. The City plans to use “everything together to make the landlords accountable,” she said.
Echoing Mayor Tisdahl’s words, Ald. Holmes added, “Residents should not have to live” next to these problem houses. “We have to come up with some solutions as a City and avoid that.”
A licensing regiment, in place of the current registration requirement, would help solve the problem, said Ald. Holmes. If landlords were required to apply for renewable and revocable licenses, the City could take away the license for repeated violations or service calls. A semi-voluntary registration program does not provide the City with such power. She said the City would hold a workshop in January focused on licensing.
The majority of properties, landlords, and tenants are responsible, lawful citizens and residents, said Ald. Holmes. But a few landlords create problems, “buying up properties, renting them out, and just collecting the check. A lot of them don’t even live in this City.
“Believe me, they’ve been talked to,” said Ald. Holmes.
Asked what she expected Chief Eddington to report back in 30 days, Ald. Holmes said, “I have no idea. As they say, I’ll be waiting with bated breath.”
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose second ward contains the only listed property not in the Fifth Ward, told the RoundTable he expected “all landlords on the list to be contacted by City staff and “that all of those properties would have been re-inspected by property standards.
“Number two,” he said, “I would like to know out of all these tenants [living in the problem properties], who is receiving federal dollars – [housing vouchers, formerly called] Section 8.
“Number three, I’d like to see a strategy and plan to get those properties up to standards and within applicable codes,” he said.
Ald. Braithwaite further called for a meeting with all the landlords. “I think it’s a good start,” he said of the initiative as a whole, “but in no way does this identify all the problem properties in town.”
At least one of the “problem landlords” told the RoundTable that the City has already scheduled a property standards inspection for later this week, in furtherance of Ald. Braithwaite’s first goal.
The list of “chronic problem” properties can be found on the City’s website: cityofevanston.org/news/2015/11/city-to-increase-enforcement-efforts-on-properties-associated-with-violent-crime-and-public-nuisance.